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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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This is Christmas Eve-a holiday Dickens often wrote about.
Today, we think of a classic Dickensian Christmas as a jolly
day, with mistletoe, plum pudding, and a twinkling tree. But in
this household, there isn't much Christmas cheer. Dickens may
be saying that this home is so grim, even Christmas isn't happy.
But, now that he is near the end of his career, he could also be
disillusioned with the idea of a merry Christmas.

Pip's sister, Mrs. Joe, is a joyless ogre, but she's a familiar ogre
to Pip, and so he describes her as a caricature, with her grated
skin, her bib full of pins, her cane Tickler, and her stock phrase
about bringing up Pip "by hand." Her husband Joe, too, seems
like a comic character, the loveable fool, as much a child as Pip
is, and certainly just as terrorized by Mrs. Joe.

The whole scene is slapstick. Pip ducks behind the door as
Mrs. Joe storms in; Joe makes faces and winks at Pip as they
eat; Pip slides a hunk of bread-and-butter for the convict down
his pants, and goes through contortions keeping it there all
evening. When Mrs. Joe knocks Joe's head against the wall, it's
like a cartoon: it doesn't seem as if it would hurt.

Still, there's nothing funny about Pip's guilt as he steals what
the convict asks for. Some readers have said his conscience is
bothering him; others say he's just a practical little kid, afraid
of being caught and punished. He's obviously wrought up, as
his imagination turns tiny sounds and sensations into reminders
of the convict outside, or signs that he has been found out. In
the dead of night, every object he takes from the pantry stands
out in sharp detail.

Pip learns from his sister what those prison ships are doing
anchored just off the shore. This book is set in the first years of
the nineteenth century, when some convicted criminals were
still shipped abroad to live in penal colonies. However, this
practice had ended in 1852, a few years before Dickens wrote
Great Expectations.

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes

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